When KC Johnson won his 200th career game on April 26 — a 17-5 win over Biddeford — he didn’t have much time to celebrate.

“I had to be in Fort Wayne, Indiana the next morning for an event with my work,” Johnson laughed. “It was pretty much, ‘Thank you, everybody.’ I left during the (junior varsity) game, shook my assistant’s hand, gave the family a hug and headed to the airport.

“Realistically, it was kind of a quiet thing in my household,” Johnson continued. “It was pretty low (key). It was a milestone that’s pretty cool, but I wasn’t really expecting people to be jumping all over it.”

The win was a major milestone for the Gardiner Area High School coach, 57, who took over the program in 1998. Over the 26 years Johnson has led the Tigers, he has ridden the ups and downs of his program and has watched the evolution and growth of the sport in central Maine.

Johnson shares, both in longevity and success, with another central Maine coach: Tom Sheridan, 51, who is in his 29th year leading the boys lacrosse program at Messalonskee High School.

“(The sport) has grown a lot, it’s grown in popularity,” Johnson said. “But one of the things that I noticed the most when I started coaching was Mt. Blue’s dominance back in the day, and Cony’s dominance — and they were dominant — for the central Maine area. Oak Hill was fairly dominant still. We saw coaching changes and change in program. Tom and I talked about this (topic) a lot, but protecting our programs, staying there so it gave a culture, it gave stability.


“And I think Tom feels the same way I do; I love coaching the sport. It’s my favorite,” Johnson continued. “The kids grow from it; they come back and support the program still. But (difference in the game), man, it was rough and tumble for a while. … (These days) it’s more athletic, fluid and fast, it’s fast.”

Sheridan has not only grown the program at Messalonskee, but the sport as a whole in central Maine. At multiple points in time, Sheridan coached at both the high school and college levels at the same time (the college lacrosse season ends by the start of the high school season).

Messalonskee boys lacrosse coach Tom Sheridan tosses a ball to players to start another drill during practice May 8 in Oakland. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Sheridan was the first head coach of the Thomas College men’s lacrosse program, leading the program from 2004-2010, and again in 2015. He’s also served as head coach of the University of Maine at Farmington men’s lacrosse program (2013-2014) and women’s lacrosse team (2022).

“When I first started coaching, I felt like it almost seemed that lacrosse was kind of seen as an extreme sport almost, people saw it kind of different in the area,” said Sheridan, who estimates that he’s won over 230 games with the Eagles in his career. “I think there was definitely ebbs and flows (over the years) with it, obviously. I think at the youth level, it’s definitely exploded. There’s a lot more kids where, they’re not getting a lacrosse stick for the first time when they get to high school.

“We had a good cross section of athletes (at the high school) before, but now we’re getting a lot of the better athletes playing lacrosse as well,” Sheridan continued. “Working on the youth program has certainly made the difference. Kids come up to Messalonskee that have known me since they were seven or eight years old. It’s almost gone from being a fringe sport to becoming an established sport in the central Maine area.”

Chad Foye coached against both Johnson and Sheridan while leading the Cony boys lacrosse program for nine years before taking over as the athletic director at Messalonskee in 2018. Foye said both Johnson and Sheridan have grown in the game over the years while leading their respective programs.


“With any coach that’s been around a long time, they’ve always looked to get better,” Foye said. “I think those two guys are examples of that. They’re always trying to find different ways to teach things. New ideas on offenses or defenses or skill development. Those two have gone above and beyond looking to gain new knowledge.”

Johnson and Sheridan have both coached together — Johnson once served as an assistant under Sheridan at Thomas — and against one another. They have tremendous respect for each other but have no trouble having fun at the other’s expense.

“We always joke about this, but my first year coaching, we were being televised by Channel 9,” Johnson said. “And we beat Tom in overtime, on his birthday. His birthday was just last week, and his wife posted something (online), and I went ‘I always fondly remember his birthday.'”

“He (reminds) me all the time,” Sheridan laughed.

Both Johnson and Sheridan believe instilling a love for the sport at a young age is what helps build a successful program.

“Keeping the kids engaged and loving the game when they finish (their playing careers),” Johnson said. “Building a culture that mimics your hometown. We’re kind of a blue-collar kind of town that grinds it out. The kids have kind of embraced the sport. Messalonskee was that way. They’re turning into a different beast now, they’ve found consistency at a high, high level.”


Gardiner boys lacrosse coach KC Johnson talks to players during practice May 8 in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“What a lot of young coaches don’t understand is, it’s not just a job, it’s definitely a lifestyle,” Sheridan said. “You have to be willing to put your time in there. Anybody who’s been in it as long as me knows that, too, you have to be willing to work with the youth programs and be at those youth clinics and not getting paid for it, volunteering. A lot of coaches that I’ve been around (have had issues with) parents, and other things make it hard staying with it. Politics get involved at the older levels, and you have to manage that. It’s not easy at the high school level, and I can see how it becomes a grind for a lot of people.”

Sheridan had a breakthrough with his Messalonskee team last season. For the first time in program history, the Eagles reached a state final, falling 12-10 to York in the Class B championship game. Last season, as well as the lost 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, helped spark Sheridan’s desire to continue leading the program.

“One of my goals is to win a state title, and we came up two goals short last year,” said Sheridan, who has led the Eagles to a 10-2 record this season. “We’re working towards that this year. I want to get better as a coach, I want my team to get better. That’s kind of where we’re at right there, to keep pushing ourselves to get better. There’s been tough years, there’s been years where the program has struggled.

“If anything, (the lost 2020 season due to COVID-19) recharged me a little bit more, having that spring off, and having my own kids lose a season, not just my athletes, kind of brought me back. I get a kick out of all my kids that I’ve had who are becoming head coaches. The central Maine area is littered with kids who have played for me or who I coached with, and that’s pretty cool.”

Both Sheridan and Johnson have lasted long enough to see former players, many of whom had successful playing careers, take over lacrosse programs.

“It’s like (Johnson), me and Ben Raymond from Cape Elizabeth. We were the young guys for a while, but now our kids are growing to be coaches, it’s pretty cool,” Sheridan said. “It’s nice to see what happens (for the sport) in the future. But I’m not done yet.”

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